Most spankings in cinema history are actually quite brief. There is a build up, a short spanking, and a bit of rueful bottom rubbing. Once five or six spanks have been administered it ends or the scene fades. The point has been made.
When the clip of the spanking in Mack Sennett’s Cowcatcher’s Daughter became available on YouTube recently, many were able to see it for the first time. It goes on and on and on, a quite wonderful scene. Two whole minutes of spanking, and that is a lot of spanking.
Now in a fascinating guest post, film historian Michael, explores the background to this movie, and some of the factors, both dramatic and personal, which might have led to cowgirl Marjorie Beebe’s uncommonly lengthy sojourn across the knee of her screen father, Andy Clyde.
His story begins, naturally enough, in 16th Century Italy!
The “slapstick” was originally the bat or paddle that Harlequin used to whack the bottoms of whomsoever he fancied. Harlequin was the most popular character in the Commedia dell’ Arte, a long-lasting and influential form of theatre that flourished in Renaissance Italy. The slapstick made a resounding noise as it hit its target.
Harlequin was a cunning and mischievous lad who loved to play pranks on his elders and social betters. He fancied Columbine, the capricious daughter of a stern old man called Pantaloon. Pantaloon heartily disapproved of Harlequin and warned his daughter not to consort with him. She was supposed to be marrying her father’s retainer Clown. Columbine was having none of it; she despised Clown.
Commedia Dell’ Arte spawned British pantomime which in turned led to a clutch of new American art forms, Medicine Shows, Wild West Shows, Vaudeville, Burlesque, and the most popular of all, Cinema
The physical buffoonery of Commedia, filtered down through pantomime and the Medicine Shows and the rest, was the mainstay of early popular cinema. The genre became known as “slapstick comedy”.
It made household names of its stars – Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. They were the actors but the man who orchestrated the slapstick from behind the scenes, Mack Sennett (left), became just as famous a name. He was known as the King of Comedy.
Sennett loved slapstick, bottoms and whackings, but for most of the time in early cinema the actors in receipt of the whackings and pratfalls were men.
Cinema also was different in one important respect to all the comedy forms from which it derived. It was silent. The audience couldn’t hear all the whacks and the wallops, the shouts and the shrieks. Not until 1928 that is, which was to be near the end of Mack Sennett’s career. Then came the talkies. For a few years Sennett was finally able to reproduce all the sounds of early slapstick, and that included the resounding wallop of the slapstick itself or his version of it – the razor strop !
And for his talkies, Sennett found an attractive young woman whose bottom was to become regularly subject to the humiliations of physical slapstick comedy. Her name was Marjorie Beebe.
Marjorie Beebe had become something of a star with Fox and, after taking various supporting roles for the studio for which she got good reviews, she starred in her own vehicle for them called The Farmer’s Daughter. Most unfortunately this film is lost; anybody unearthing it would be well rewarded!
Marjorie Beebe: The Farmers Daughter
One charming posed shot does exist and a synopsis which shows that Beebe had embraced the old story of the Harlequinade. There was her father played by Jimmie Adams, the stolid local boyfriend, and the city slicker, the Harlequin figure, who comes to disrupt their lives and turn Marge’s head.
And there was by all accounts plenty of slapstick. Did it involve Marjorie Beebe’s bottom? Did she by any chance get a spanking? We shall probably never know.
Marjorie Beebe was just what Sennett was looking for. She was pretty, funny, mischievous, and she loved larking about. Here was a fresh and genuine new slapstick comedienne.
She became the female star of Mack Sennett’s talkie shorts, which he made regularly from 1929 until he went bust in 1933. She did pratfalls in virtually every movie she was in, and was regularly to be seen rubbing her bottom.
All sorts of indignities were visited on the Beebe behind:
Her Farmer’s Daughter style dungarees came down in A Put-Up Job to display her pantied bottom.
Her behind caught fire in Hot News Margie, and she was shown smacking it, trying to put the flames out.
And in Racket Cheers, she was taken into the next room by her boyfriend and given an audible spanking. She returned clutching her bottom and was given a cushion to sit down on, which she did with a lot of squirming.
Hot News Margie: Marjorie Beebe clutching and smacking her bottom
All this was nothing compared to her 1931 outing in Cowcatcher’s Daughter when our story really comes together.
This was the Harlequinade revisited, the tale of a Pantaloon type father (Andy Clyde) who wants his daughter (Beebe of course) to marry his Fool of a foreman (Harry Gribbon). She would rather flirt around with the handsome Harlequin of a cattle inspector (Frank Eastman ) who turns up at the spread.
It’s also the return of the “slapstick” in the guise of an old razor strop, which Clyde keeps for disciplining his wayward daughter when she needs it.
She never needed it more than at the opening of Cowcatcher’s Daughter when Clyde has just discovered that the minx is not at the Finishing School to which he has sent her to make a young lady of her. She has run away to join a Wild West Show. (One of those post-Commedia dell’ Arte precursors to cinema.)
In the first scene, Clyde is promising just what he’s going to do when he gets hold of her. Beebe’s bottom had often enough been the focus of comedy. But the pratfalls, the pants pulled down, even the offscreen spanking, were momentary affairs, little gags within the film, without much build-up or consequence.
But in Cowcatcher’s Daughter, Beebe and her bottom are the subject matter for the whole of the first half of the movie, as the inevitability of her being spanked gathers pace.
She is first seen being brought back home in disgrace by the foreman, though she is still larking about, and seems oblivious to the reception she’s going to be getting back home. Everybody else know she’s in for a good spanking!
The build-up intensifies when they get to the ranch, when Clyde starts to scold his daughter, and then produces the razor strop. Now Beebe herself realises to her horror that her Pop doesn’t think she’s too big to go over his knee!
Feel the frisson as Marjorie Beebe realises she’s about to be SPANKED over her Pop’s knee.
In the original script, Clyde starts tucking under his arm to spank her bottom out there on the verandah in front of the foreman, though the main spanking was always going to be indoors. How she tries to simper and wriggle her way out of it! But Clyde’s absolutely determined that his disobedient daughter is going to have her bottom spanked good and proper.
She becomes more and more conscious of her bottom as the truth of what’s about to happen sinks in. We can almost feel those cheeks tingling in apprehension, and she’s clutching them as she’s chased into the house by her angry father.
At first the camera remains outside with Gribbon, and we wonder if the proceedings are going to remain in camera. But the build-up has been too long and too intense for the viewer to be deprived of this climax. The first half of Cowcatcher’s Daughter is actually about the spanking.
And what a spanking Beebe gets with that big old “slapstick” that her Pop uses to wallop her bottom!
Although this film was directed by Babe Stafford, the whole proceedings would have been orchestrated by Mack Sennett. He was the Governor. And a few months before Cowcatchers Daughter was made, Sennett was busy scotching rumours that he was about to get married…to Marjorie Beebe! (He said the rumours were untrue but that they were the biggest compliment he had been paid in a long while).
Beebe was certainly Sennett’s companion of choice at this time. She accompanied him to parties and film premieres. They were in today’s jargon an item. She must have seen Sennett, who was a full thirty years her senior, as some sort of father figure. But why should Sennett decide to subject his young lady love to such a prolonged and public spanking in front of a whole film crew?
Did he possibly think that Marjorie Beebe deserved a good spanking, with her shapely bottom up in the air over Andy Clyde’s knee?
MARJORIE BEEBE: I’ve learned my lesson, Pop
ANDY CLYDE: You can’t have. I’ve only just started.
Mack Sennett was a consummate professional; all his working life he turned out movie after movie every year. So too was Andy Clyde, Sennett’s principal male comedian by 1931, who arguably holds the record for the number of shorts in which he appeared – first for Sennett, then for Educational Pictures and finally for Columbia.
The young Marjorie Beebe was somewhat different in her approach. She was a party girl and she could knock back the drink. Sennett wouldn’t have minded that, within limits, as long as it didn’t interfere with the film making.
It clearly did.
Marjorie Beebe: Party Girl, Larking Around on a Boat
Sennett had to insert a clause in Beebe’s contract that she was to cut out the drinking while she was making a film. That didn’t wholly work. Another contract was prepared, this time part of Beebe’s salary was held back until filming was complete.
Did Mack Sennett think that his frustrating but talented young girlfriend really did need to be taught a lesson? Did he tell Clyde to really lay the strap on across Beebe’s bottom?
She was a fit and physically tough young lady, an expert horse rider and swimmer. Did Sennett conclude that a real spanked bottom would do her no harm in the long term, but might well be beneficial in the short? Can some of the long dialogue be seen as Sennett talking through Clyde, while Beebe is getting spanked?
Perhaps Clyde, fed up with the antics of his co-star, also decided to improvise himself. He certainly seems to be laying the strap on hard. It makes a resounding, almost echoing, sound each time it makes contact with Marjorie’s bottom. Her squirming and wriggling look authentic. Her bottom is centre screen, right up close, and nicely delineated under the skirt. Is there padding there? Or is Marjorie Beebe getting a real paddling for her pains?
Clyde and the camera crew have got her just where they want her. In the picture above, her bottom is the highest point of her anatomy, (and her pert mouth the lowest ) as Clyde delivers a whole series of resounding whacks, wallops and spanks.
MARJORIE BEEBE: Do you want to give me the rest tomorrow?
ANDY CLYDE: You’ll stay here if it takes me till tomorrow!
Did the spanking scene get filmed all in one go, or did Marjorie Beebe want to take a break? Towards the end, she is certainly squirming and whimpering more as Clyde continues to wallop her bottom with that strap. And there she still is across Andy Clyde’s knee in front of the whole Sennett camera crew, sound guys, continuity girl and all.
And no doubt Mack Sennett himself was watching the spanking with proprietorial satisfaction!
Marjorie Beebe’s Cheeky Face
At last the film was in the can. The Harlequinade was through. The slapstick was put away in the props department.
But how was Marjorie Beebe’s bottom? Was she still smarting from that spanking? Was her bottom still red and sore. Were the marks of the strap still visible across her shapely behind?
Marjorie Beebe’s Bottom